Hartford · In the State

Judge Rules In Favor Of Sheff Plaintiff: Blocks State Efforts To Shift Integration Standards

It looks like unfilled seats at Hartford Magnet schools will remain unfilled — at least for now.

Today, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger granted the Sheff plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction, blocking the state’s efforts to change integration standards for Hartford area schools.  

This decision doesn’t have an immediate effect since the lottery for next year already took place. What it does do is invalidate a new state law that was passed this legislative session that would have allowed the state to change the integration standard from requiring schools to have no more than 75 percent minority student populations, to 80 percent, at certain schools.

For more on this, the Hartford Courant has a great overview of the recent hearing:

“…Judge Marshall K. Berger, ruling Friday at the conclusion of a three-day hearing, said that the lottery currently underway for next school year must continue to use the 75-percent standard. He also granted a request by the Sheff plaintiffs to extend a variety of other terms contained in the expiring settlement, including maintaining the state’s regional school choice office and employing a plaintiff’s representative.

While Berger’s order provides a measure of stability just weeks before the settlement’s expiration, the court battle is far from over. Absent a new negotiated agreement, which is seen as unlikely, it will fall to Berger to determine the future of desegregation efforts in Hartford, more than 20 years after the Supreme Court declared the city’s segregated schools unconstitutional.

In testimony this week, Glen Peterson, director of the regional school choice office, described the growing number of schools struggling to meet the 75-percent standard, despite increasingly aggressive efforts to engineer the magnet school lottery in ways that favor white and Asian applicants. As The Courant reported in March, some magnet schools have been forced to leave seats empty rather than offer spots to black and Latino children. Changing the standard to 80 percent at those schools, Peterson said, would allow magnet schools to fill those seats with hundreds of additional Hartford children…”

Over 9,000 Hartford students still in hyper-segregated schools

I think we need to face facts here: Integration is a complicated issue — one that the state has yet to figure out.

Over two decades ago, the State Supreme Court ruled in favor of 11 Hartford students, ordering the state to desegregate Hartford Public Schools.  In response to Sheff v. O’Neill, the state established Hartford’s Magnet school system. The point was to promote voluntary integration, but that hasn’t panned out.  

Over the past 15 years, the number of suburban white and Asian students applying for Magnet seat has decreased, resulting in over 400 unfilled seats.

During his brief ruling, Judge Berger went back to the decades old State Supreme Court ruling, quote passages on the importance of integration, adding: “The empty seats can not simply be filled without recognizing the mandates of the court.”

The court ruled that five percentage points matter to its mandate, but what about the 51 percent students stuck in hyper-segregation schools? That’s about 9,000 students.

Integration was supposed the be the goal, wasn’t it? There’s a lot of students that haven’t reaped the benefits of this ruling.

The injunction pushes back the state’s action six months. In the meantime, both parties will presumably be back to the drawing board.

The state’s solution didn’t fix the problem either, but it could have made a dent for at least a few hundred of the thousands of students looking to get into these schools.


What do you think?

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